When I was in high school, I didn’t want my friends to know I had diabetes. I did everything I could to hide it, pretending I was just like the other kids. But as I went off to college, I felt I had a fresh start. I didn’t know anyone who was going to the same college I'd be attending So I felt that telling classmates I had diabetes wouldn’t be awkward, since I hadn’t been hiding it from them for years like with my high school friends.
The fresh start worked and I no longer hid diabetes, but I also didn’t talk about it much. I was still the only person I knew who had diabetes. And it still made me feel different, and also ashamed because I knew I wasn’t doing very well with my diabetes management. So even though I wasn’t hiding it, I wasn’t exactly loud and proud either.
One evening I was at a friend’s apartment for a party. The bathrooms in our on-campus apartments had storage closets with sliding doors for stuff to be stowed. Someone had left the sliding door open, and I couldn’t help but notice an oh-so-familiar-to-me box of syringes. I wondered who it could belong to and I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I asked my friend about it. As it turns out, his roommate, who I didn’t know all that well, had diabetes. “Yeah, he always ends up in the hospital because he'll eat a big bag of M&Ms.” I was kind of shocked. Shocked because I wasn’t the only one with diabetes. Shocked because I wasn't the only one who wasn't doing very well with my diabetes management. And also shocked because this poor guy kept ending up in the hospital. After all, I ate more than my fair share of M&Ms as well, but I was okay. I couldn’t imagine what I was doing, or actually not doing, could land me in the hospital.
I wish I could say this was a wake-up call and I started working harder at diabetes. But that wouldn’t come for many years later. I wish I could say I talked to this roommate and commiserated about life with diabetes. But I didn’t. I didn’t know how to. I didn’t have the tools.
I honestly believe things would be different for me if I was a college student today. I lacked support back then, but today support is ready and waiting. One great source is The College Diabetes Network. They have launched Off to College Booklets for students and parents. You can check out a preview of the Parent Booklet and the Student Booklet and can request free copies to download here.
I really wish resources like these were around when I was in college. And I wish my college had been a part of The College Diabetes Network. Maybe it would’ve helped me feel comfortable enough to talk about diabetes with my friend's roommate. And maybe, all these years later, we’d still be in touch.
Instead I wonder how things turned out for him and hope that he’s doing well.